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Southeasts quest for power shift

Published by The Nation on Sat, 09 Jan 2021

By Emmanuel OladesuThe Southeast is testing the waters. Ahead of 2023, its agitation for the presidency may be one of the important issues that will shape national politics.The clamour is the bond of unity in the politically divided region. The Ndigbo are emotionally attached to the project. A source said no fewer than one hundred politicians of Igbo extraction are eyeing the slot, in the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other parties.Yet, the region faces an exceptional obstacle. The coast is not clear. Igbo as a bloc is an ally of the opposition PDP, which may not zone its presidential slot to the region in 2023.Also, while the ruling APC may zone its presidential ticket to the larger South, consisting of Southeast, Southsouth and Southwest, it may not micro-zone it to the East. It is evident that the Southwest is not ready to concede the opportunity to the Southeast.While the North and the Southeast, the North and Southsouth, and the North and the Southwest have been partners in the Norths quest for federal power and retention of political control, the Southeast and the Southwest have never jointly proposed a sort of strategic political collaboration. Both regions have continually suffered from the carryover of the Zik/Awo hostility.Indeed, as observers have pointed out, the Southeast may have a weak claim because of its low numerical strength in the ruling party, which may translate into weak bargaining power.The idea of drafting Ebele Azikiwe to the race and branding him as a potential Igbo candidate for APC may have collapsed. The anticipated transformation from Ijaw to Igbo may have paled into a figment of hyperactive imagination. If the plot is resurrected, it may still be a big gamble.Igbo leaders, according to reports, have unfolded plans to raise huge money in aid of the regional agitation for presidency. More importantly, they will have to exert much energy on inter-regional contact, mobilisation and lobbying for the dream to become a reality.But, are Igbo leaders on the same page with their elected governors on the issue' Instructively, its recent Igbere meeting for compilation of ideas on the clamour was boycotted by the governors and their camps.The Igbo race also faces three more conflicts. First, Igbo youths are agitating for the actualisation of the ill-fated Biafra Republic at a time their elders are vigorously pushing for a president from the Southeast. The signal to other sensitive regions is that the agenda for balkanisation can be revived.Second, Igbo leaders rooting for a Southeast president are locked in deep rift over the soul of the umbrella organisation. The leadership squabbles in the apex socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, at this time is counter-productive. If parallel executive committees headed by two factional president-generals emerge, the cohesion required to sustain the battle may disappear.Three, there is conflict between the agitation for Igbo president and the clamour for Southeast president. What will be the fate of Igbo from Southsouth' Former Senate President Pius Ayim has said that the scope is limited to the Southeast geo-political region. Igbo outside the Southeast are kicking. Also, what is the fate of minority tribes in the Southeast' Can the non-Igbo Southeasterners also vie on the strength of the indisputable fact that they hail from the region'Since 1966, no Igbo has occupied the seat of federal power in post-Ironsi period, although an Igbo had served as vice president and many Igbo have served as ministers, special advisers, governors of central bank, service chiefs, ambassadors and heads of parastatals and boards.On account of the apparent marginalisation, Igbo as the third largest ethnic group has the right to intensify the agitation. Also, there are eminent Nigerians from Igboland who have the prerequisite for the exalted office.Igbo leading lights believe that their agitation is premised on equity and justice. It is their constitutional right. However, other regions have the right to also jostle in accordance with the constitution.The 1999 Constitution is clear on the eligibility for the presidential election. It is the ground norm. It is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable.But, the document has its limitations. It does not offer comprehensive solutions to political problems, particularly the distribution of core federal powers to foster national unity. The workability of the constitution depends on the people, who are Nigerians from Hausaland, Yoruba, Kanuri, Igbo, Efik Ijaw, Ibibio etc. These tribes are diverse and they are not equal, in terms of numerical strength, deft political calculations, strategies, privileges, and capacity for scheming.The operation of the constitution is shaped by the countrys political culture, and the wish, preference, interests and agenda of antagonistic and competing tribes or ethnic groups struggling for relevance, dominance and survival in the big country. Power is never served ala cart. Therefore, there is bound to be an intense struggle among the social formations that will generate tensions.Since the presidency cannot be the unifying factor as tribes are only satisfied and comfortable when the president is from their ethnic group, the military divided the country into six zones to shape the competition for the presidency. This may have laid the foundation for zoning or rotation of the highest office.About 250 ethnic groups are compressed into six regions. The regions have no root in the constitution. They are not of equal strength. While the three northern zones are always on the same page and often act as one indivisible bloc, the three southern zones are never in one accord. They are permanently disunited and suspicious of one another.Zoning and rotation are internalised as mechanisms for safeguarding equity, justice and sense of belonging in a disunited Nigeria. However, the dominat political parties, which subscribe to zoning or rotation, in principle, also have their own contrasting formula for accomplishing zoning, rotation and power shift.Despite their genuine or hypocritical commitment to zoning, rotation, or a semblance of turn by turn model, there is no intra-party or inter-party consensus on the roster for zoning, rotation or power distribution. That is why at the time many people expect ruling party to be looking downward, the opposition party is looking upward.The implication is that rotation, zoning and power shift can only be accomplished through strategic agreement within the political parties, or through manipulation by either the parties or influential forces controlling them, or through struggle by ethnic blocs within the dominant parties, or through an accidental factor, particularly the demise of an incumbent president, which ultimately paves the way for his deputy, who is from another tribe, ethnic group, zone or region.The battle for the presidency can never never be fought successfully on the platform of ethnic groups or associations, but on the platform of political parties, which may never be politically dwarfed by the influence of ethnic clubs.Ethnic groups are now weak vehicles for political bargaining in the contest for presidential power, although after the elections are won and lost, they can on behalf of their tribes, ethnic groups or regions press for more dividends of democracy, decry marginalisation in appointments and act as bull dogs that can only bark, but not bite.The political elite listen to their political parties, which tend to have national outlook, than their ethnic organisations, which are driven by primordial sentiments.The onus is on the Igbo leaders to constructively engage the parties and gain the confidence of other zones by explaining and convincing Nigerians about the utility of power shift to Igboland, and what it portends for political unity and national interest.
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